20/11/15 You Buy One, You Get One Free

******This Blog has content that may be triggering*********

This month I decided to join Slimming World. Imagine my delight when I bowled up last night to discover I was ‘Slimmer of The Week’.

Before I knew it I was adorned with a silver sash being photographed, to the delight of the audience, in my budgie smugglers…..

Ok, that’s not entirely true…’Slimmer of the Week’ – yes; dodgy speedos – no. 

Yes, I know that image will stay with you for the rest of the day, but – SUE ME! 

In less frivolous news, I read this week that folk carrying more weight than their BMI would suggest is healthy, THE OBESE, as they, whoops WE, whoops, I am often known, are the fourth most stigmatised group in the United States. 

Although there are no equivalent studies in the UK, you can be as sure as eggs is eggs that attitudes are the same on this side of the pond. 

So what, I hear you cry, obesity – it’s self inflicted – you bunch of fat knackers. 

Tenderly put – but I’d like to challenge that point. Let me tell you a bit about my journey…

Given my whacky childhood, I’ve got an intriguing relationship with food – but that’s probably another meandering story…

I’d like to focus on how the drugs, pills and potions that, in varying degrees, take some of the edge off a variety of whappy head stuff for some folk, whilst doing bugger all for others, are notorious for piling on the pounds of their recipients. 

My drug of choice – by which I mean something entirely different – quetiapine, known as Seroquel, has been known for adding an average of 11 pounds a year onto your regular punter. 

My rapier-like, witty response whenever I find myself discussing my weight with folk who remark upon it, is that I’d rather be fat than mad. 

Open and shut…

The truth of the matter though, is I’m both. 

I bought one – I got one free. 

Since I was around 15, I’ve been unable to look in mirrors. This, as far as I’ve been able to work out over the years, is related to the chronic shame and guilt I’ve experienced due to being sexually abused as a teenager.

This – until now – has got in the way of any observation of my physical self – including weighing myself. 

I’m not sure what’s changed, it might be the fact that Walkamile the movie is due to be completed around August next year, it might be down to the fact that I’m just fucking fed up with it!

It’s not fucking normal to be unable to walk into Debenhams or any other heavily mirrored department store without having a mental habdab. 

I just want it to be different. 
Walking into the Slimming World group and getting myself weighed feels like a step in the right direction. 

Hearing that I was 20 stone and 9 pounds, though, was a near crippling shock.

But it’s a start. 

Looking at myself in the mirror with compassionate eyes still evades me. I’m doing it – but it still makes me want to vomit, run, fight and punch myself in the face…not necessarily in that order. 

Yes, I know, as the guy assessing me for group psychotherapy said all that time ago, punching myself in the face might not be seen as a terribly bright thing to do. 

But…tempting though it is, I won’t go down that particular road of debate today…and, yes, I know it was me who took the detour into this cul-de-sac. 

My hope is, that by the time next year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival is upon us, it’s 10th anniversary come September, I’ll be there to watch me wandering around on the big screen without having to race out.

I’m now, sort of, looking at myself once a week at the weigh-in. I’ve lost 9 pounds. I’m hoping that’ll continue as I’m walking between 4 an 8 miles a day. 

It’s a battle. I know walking is only good for my mental health when it’s good for my mental health. I know I’ll dissociate and I know I’ll be unable to venture outside. I know, once the episode has passed, I’ll hear that old familiar friend – self judgement where, once again, the inner voice will scream,


And there’s the rub. How can I expect the world to stop judging me and folk like me, when I can’t stop judging myself? 

Well, I’m taking the first few tentative steps.

Perhaps I’ll take some of the world with me.

I’m the Slimmer of the Week!

Walk a mile


Posted in mental health, walking, inequality, government, economy, kindness, hospitality | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

15/11/15 The Paris Attacks – What are YOU going to do? 

I was listening to a special episode of ‘Any Answers’ on BBC Radio 4 the other day. It was extended while people phoning in tried to make sense of what happened in Paris on the evening of Friday the 13th of November. 

You can listen here to a wide range of opinions from keeping calm and carrying on, to rounding up sundry folk, who may or may or may not be seen to be guilty by some vague association by the caller, and placing them in concentration camps on some ‘miserable’ (his word) Scottish Island. 

I, probably like many of you, have been pulled in by the horror and the terror of the seemingly random deaths caused by what is believed to be 8 young men wearing bomb vests and brandishing Kalashnikovs. 

I can only imagine what it must be like to be exposed to the rawness of the vivid and intense fear of not knowing where to run and hide. 

I was watching the Andrew Marr show this morning – Frank Gardner, the BBC journalist, was talking about how, in his work, he’d lived amongst Muslims in the Middle East and had found the vast majority of the people he’d met to be kind and hospitable. 

Quick as a flash, Andrew Marr responds with, ‘Yes, but one of them shot you…’

So one of them shot you – fuck ’em – fuck ’em all.

Andrew Gardner had been shot 6 times in an attack by Al-Qaeda sympathisers in Riyadh in 2004. One of the bullets caused spinal damage that partially paralysed his legs. 

And yet he was able to extol the virtues of the lovely people who he’d lived with for most of his career. 

I’m a white man living in a wealthy western, possibly Christian, occasionally secular society. I think I’d be less than delighted if people around the world mentally packaged me up with the mass murderer, Anders Breivik or the enthusiastic purveyors of war, Mr Bush junior, and our very own Mr Blair. 

There are around 1.6 billion Muslims in the world – give or take. 
In much the same way that I’m not our murderers – these people are not represented by these 8 terrorists – you/ me and others might have other names for them now or later on…but for the moment, I think the word ‘terrorist’ is as good as any. 

But already we know this story is bigger than that. Perhaps we feel more empathy with the people of Paris because it’s easy to see us in them. 

But what about the 147 people killed  in the Islamist attack in Kenya in April this year? 

Or the bombing in Beruit  killing at least 43 people, injuring as many as 200 that took place earlier in the week by suicide bombers claiming allegiance to the same organisation who are claiming responsibility for the atrocities in Paris. 

Where’s our empathy, understanding and outrage for them? 

But they’re not…?


Fill in your own reason here….

but remember, they are people – just like us – who are feeling everything that we’re feeling.

Tragically though, that’s not even half the story.

What about the state sponsored terrorism meted out apparently in our name? 

I could start with the 110 thousand civilians in Iraq who died following our invasion…

I could tell you about a thing called ‘tapping’, where drones drop a small explosive on a building that allows the inhabitants to escape before following it up with a second decisive blast that blows it to bits…

The same drones that wander the skies above Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria…and others – sometimes invisible – sometimes clear for everyone to see…

Can you imagine looking up into the airspace around our lovely country knowing that these remote controlled harbingers of death could rain down their Hellfire missiles at any time. 

Flying weapons that you have no control of, and somewhere between little and no way of fighting? 

Can you conceive living in this almost permanent state of hypervigilance and fear in the knowledge that, on top of all this, western powers were using tactics they call ‘Double Tapping’?

To clarify, a missile will be unleashed – unit cost $110 thousand dollars – on a building…those in control will wait for the first responders – people – humans wanting to help in any way they can – before following up the attack with a second lethal explosion – effectively slaughtering people whose only crime was compassion for others. 

Yes, but they must be guilty by association…mustn’t they? 

A report in 2012 found that just 1 in 50 of those people killed in ‘Surgical’ drone strikes were known militants. 

Well, that must be some unreliable, foreign propaganda surely? 

No, it was Harvard University that gathered this information. 

1 in 50!

That must mean the rest are….what?

You and me. Flesh and blood, vulnerable to the ever present fear of terrorism from the sky. 

We could carry on avenging and revenging on all sides but…

I was watching NCIS the other day…yes, you’re right, I’m right dead cultured…when I heard agent Dinozzo utter some very wise words,

‘If you follow a policy of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ you’ll end up in a world of blind toothless people’

Already there have been reports of some misguided, so called ‘revenge attacks’ on one of the refugee camps in Calais…

We can shout out our indignance, we can express fear and anger…even hatred. We can demand that our government should ‘DO SOMETHING!!!’ 

We can reel off a shopping list of differences between ourselves and these perceived ‘others’…

We can carry on as before and nothing will change. 

But let me take you back to the beginning of the blog and the question I asked at the start of all this

‘What are YOU going to do?’

I’ve got to say, I’m pretty clueless. But, to be fair, no less clueless than our great leaders. 

So I decided to reach out. I contacted a guy who I know, whose Muslim faith is important to him. I told him I was thinking about him and his – our – community, and that I knew that things were potentially going to be shitty as once again we’re hit by a wave of prejudice. I said hello, and asked if there was anything I could do. 

Walk a mile 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

23/09/15 Great Scott!

Take a look at the guy standing next to me in the photo. 

Any thoughts? 

It was about quarter past three on the day of the #letswalkamile Lanarkshire event in Strathclyde Park. 

It had been a bit grey up until that moment – the handy dandy BBC weather app had told me to expect no precipitation – that, after all, is the walkamile way. 

Imagine my surprise then, when the heavens let loose with a positively earth nurturing cloud burst. 

I had to explain the the gathered ensemble that I’d booked the rain – just a short but intense shower – to er, quench the thirst of the not particularly parched earth. 

15 minutes later, around 40 folk gathered at the agreed muster point, just as the rain stopped and the clouds parted. 

We took a few photos, had a bit of a chat…and off we went…a small group of folk, challenging mental health stigma one conversation at a time. 

I was lucky enough…and I do mean fortunate, to walk a mile in the shoes of Scott, a delightful 19 year old guy who was wonderfully interested and interesting. 

That’s him in the picture above. 

Walking a mile – for half an hour – isn’t really that long, but it can give you a real flavour of a person. 

I was immediately put at ease by his comfortable and easy demeanour and friendly tone. 

At school, he’d been diagnosed with ADHD – attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. He experienced difficulty in concentrating on things for any great length of time…he’d ask questions in class when he didn’t understand things…he’d feel frustration when time pressed teachers were unable, perhaps unwilling at times, to give him the support he required. 

He was seen as disruptive by some – he may well have been at times. Others felt jealous that he was given, what appeared to them, preferential treatment. 

All the time though, Scott felt like he was on the periphery of things, an outsider who didn’t fit in. 

Years of this wears a guy down and so, when he was 15, he chose not to return to school.

Feeling on the edge and anxious about finding his place in the world, at times he was unable to leave his home for days at a time.

Like me, he’d go through periods of dissociation – times where he’d feel absolutely nothing – disconnected from the world. 

For times of emotional distress it’s a fabulous defence mechanism – when it arbitrarily emerges at other times, it’s a pain in the arse. 

Scott turned to alcohol. Vodka was his spirit of choice to smooth those sharp edges and, seemingly paradoxically, to make those periods of numbness easier. 

As with so many who’ve chosen that somewhat perilous route, Scott soon found himself careering out of control – involvement with the police soon followed – as did probation and an electronic tag. 

Remember, this is a journey that started with ADHD.

Perhaps a stitch in time…?

Scott told me about his new diagnosis – Borderline Personality Disorder – that’s what’s been attributed to my cluster of…stuff. 

It’s not the greatest badge of honour. 

He found himself in groups with men in their 40’s – for many, it had taken them all these years to get to that point…whether it be a lack of services or a lack of…who knows? that stopped them from getting there sooner.

On his way, Scott came across the Hope Cafe in Lanark

Open twice a week, the cafe provides…in their words…

‘A menu of learning opportunities for individuals to improve and maintain positive health and wellbeing’

Just as importantly – well, more importantly for me…

‘All of our courses are delivered by fully trained and accredited individuals, but more importantly all of our trainers have personal lived experience of mental ill-health. This enables us to provide honest, reliable and thought provoking deliveries.’ 

In short, they’re run by people with a lived experience…for people with…you get the picture. 

And this is the place where we find Scott. His eyes have been opened wide by the great work of this small but wonderfully formed organisation. 

As we walked around Strathclyde Country Park, he told me it was his aim to become a peer support worker with the Hope Cafe, so that he can give something back…his words. 

I found meeting Scott absolutely thrilling – he still finds life challenging – maintaining eye-contact can be difficult for him – but his ambition to use his experience of mental ill health as a positive is lovely to behold. 

Isn’t it amazing what walking a mile in someone else’s shoes can achieve? 

I got all this from walking and talking for just half an hour. 

Look at the picture again.


He’s great!

Walk a mile


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

23/09/15 Be careful who you climb into bed with. 


Ok, it’s a fair cop. I’ll hold up my hands – I shared the picture above and laughed to the point of near incontinence at the veritable landslide of #piggate pics careering around social media world. 
For those of you who are unaware of what I’m rambling on about – David Cameron’s unauthorised autobiography’s being serialised in the Daily Mail. 

Penned by Michael Ashcroft, the enthusiastic Tory doner, Lord Wotnot of Thingumy, non-dom billionaire (Belizian, if you don’t mind) and ex friend of our…yes, our Prime Minister. 

More on that later…

In this…let’s call it taudry…piece, Lord Wotsisface recounts a story where an undergraduate ‘Call me Dave’ had Monica Lewinsky-esque relations with the head of a dead pig. 

Hilarious and too disgusting to imagine – I’m sure you’ll agree. 

As the rumour machine would have us believe, this is payback for the Prime Minister not rewarding Lord Do-dad’s generous donations to the Tory coffers with some manner of puffed up position of importance in the establishment.

Our down, but not out, leader came back with this rapier riposte…following an injection from his doctor, who delivered said barb with the statement, 

“This will just be a little prick, just a stab in the back.”

How we laughed when Dave delivered the punchline, 

“… that ‘rather summed up my day.”

Imagine you’re a teacher and you’re dealing with 2 naughty 8 year old boys in your class passing messages to their friends and spreading nasty little rumours about each other…

Puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?

This is just the ‘I’ve/ my Daddy/ Mummy’s got a hedge fund version of that. 

The dismally depressing thing about this miserable exchange is that this is the elected (ish – that’s up for debate) leader of our country passing notes under the table. 

The truly miserable thing for me though is…


And yet I allowed myself to be pulled into this maelstrom because it was about someone I don’t like…er, but have never met.

To help me fan those flames of self admonition, I realised 


And, I’m guessing, you’re not much different from me. 

I’ve always struggled with the anti-immigrant –

anti-Muslim – 

and benefit bashing bollocks
from this mean little newspaper. 

This, to my mind, is slightly scary because it feels like ‘Don’t call me Mike’ twinned with the Daily (hate) Mail are saying,

‘We’re bigger than you…’

And, just in case they’re not, 

‘We’ve got photos to prove it!’

Just because they’ve pointed their vitriol in the direction of a target you’d like to see hit, don’t be fooled.

The enemy of your enemy isn’t your friend. 

I, you, we are bigger than that. 

And, at any rate, they’ll be more than happy to point their Bazooka of Bollocks at you some time soon.

Yes, I’m a hypocrite. 

Bloody funny though.

Walk a mile


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

18/09/15 What’s your walk a mile?

Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Whatever you are, be a good one.’

A great quote, but one that only scratches the surface, doesn’t it?
Not so long ago, me and the lovely Ella were in a cafe in Banbury with a friend of ours, Charlie.

He was keen to show us this groovy little place where they ask the punters to pay what they feel is right for the goodies they’ve devoured. 

As you can imagine, we scoffed everything on the menu, and gave them 20 pence for being such economic idiots. 

A combination of hospitality and trust – it all felt rather walkamiley. 
Well, look at me, one sentence into a story and I’ve already been ambushed by the digression faries…

At the counter, talking in an agitated tone, was a man in his mid-60’s – since the cafe was compact and bijou, we soon became involved. 

The conversation – for one reason or another – rapidly became a dialogue between me and the man – we soon found ourselves upstairs in a private room discussing some of his trials and tribulations. 

Ultimately, he was a distressed man in need of a quiet listening ear. In amongst it all I made sure he was aware that I’m not a qualified counsellor – although, having worked in and around social work for the best part of two decades, I had a black belt in nosey parkeriness…

The situation calmed into a friendly chat…I told him a bit about the sacred ramble…
‘I can’t go walking around the edge of the UK!’ he declared with not a little indignance. Although I happily invited him to walk with me pretty much anywhere at any time, I told him that…well…he was under no contractual obligation…and that this was, essentially, my walkamile – my…thing…

I told him that it took me 2 years of great group psychotherapy to get to that point where something so…well…ostentatious made absolute sense to me.

We talked about how, by having a mental health malady his and my walkamiles were moveable feasts – and that something that made absolute sense to me, or him at one point, would feel absolutely ridiculous at others.

He went off with one of my none-business cards – hopefully with a feeling that just because he was having a bit of a mental habdab he wasn’t an enemy of the state, that he wasn’t alone, and that the world that we live in can be a compassionate one.

I haven’t heard from him, and I hadn’t thought about him for a while…until last week.

We’d just had the wonderful, life affirming, celebration of the general fabulousness of people that was letswalkamile Edinburgh. 
100’s of people, some with lived experience of mental ill health, some working in the area, some carers, some a bit of all 3 and some…you get the picture. 

I knew that after all the hard work – after all the hopes – investment of energy from me and all the people involved – thanks again to everyone on the walk a mile steering group – with extra special thanks to Eleanor Ogilvie at SeeMe – I knew that it was likely – not definite – that I’d take a turn for the loopy. 

It’s a bit like holding the reins of a bunch of wild horses – I can stop them galloping off, but only for a limited time.

I dissociated. My arms, my hands, my ME became completely unreal. The world pretty much drifted away. Emotions left me – as with all the times before, touching my lovely Ella had no more emotional connection to me than handling a joint of meat. 

Sitting in a darkened room, watching loud American cop shows, my walkamile is significantly altered. 

Making a cup of coffee, achieving eye contact with…well, anyone really, not punching myself in the face, or screaming…anything to try to feel…anything…all become my brand new walkamile…a walkamile that’s often unachievable for around one unpredictable week every month. 

Walking and talking to folk is really good for me…only when it’s really good for me. 

Sitting in a darkened room with a single noisy focus is good for me…as above. 

Mental health problems, mental health maladies…whatever you choose to call them…vary wildly between people, because of their own experiences, their environments, their access to mental health services, how severely ATOS’d they’ve been, how stigmatised they feel, how supportive the people who are most important to them are…and they vary from week to week…day to day…and for many from hour to hour. 

Their walkamiles vary accordingly. 

Your walkamiles vary accordingly. 

I guess what I’m saying here is – there is no, one size fits all, panacea that fixes folk so they fit into some manner of employment-centric, benefit damning, quick to sanction, caricature of what an upstanding pillar of community should be. 

So, what’s your walkamile?

Walk a mile


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

15/09/15 Walk a Mile Lanarkshire – it’s in our genes.


Sign up here to join the walk on 23/09/15 at 3.30pm at the rather picturesque Strathclyde park. Our focus is to get people with a lived experience of mental health problems to share a short walk and a chat with mental health professionals, carers, and supporters. 

These people often meet under stressful circumstances with the potential for stigma to be thrown about in all directions.

I’m originally from Corby, what was a primarily a steel town from the 1930’s until 1980. 
Nestling in Northamptonshire in Middle England, this groovy little town became known as ‘Little Scotland’ following an influx of…er an exodus…er a swarm of us Scots travelling down to work at the steelworks there. 

Unemployment was high in central Scotland – from Motherwell to Paisley – and, since public transport and car ownership wasn’t what it is today, a lot of folk walked the 300 plus miles to their new homes in the Midlands. 

On the way many of them received hospitality, shelter, food and water from the many English towns and villages they cascaded through.
Scratch that – they received hospitality from PEOPLE! People from whom, on paper at least, they might not expect much in the way of generosity…

But…true to the whole walkamile thing…these people were lovely.

It’s in our genes. 

We…you…me…people…are fabulous. Left to our own devices we are kind, trusting, trustworthy and good God, we’re hospitable. 

Very briefly…people aren’t migrants…they’re not even refugees…they are people…individuals who are in need. Let’s allow ourselves to show off what we do best – show empathy and understanding (that’s why we’ve got massive brains – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) so that we can love and care for each other. 

We’ve been walkamiling forever – let’s keep it going. 

As #letswalkamile Lanarkshire will show, it’s as natural as a hug. 
As #letswalkamile Edinburgh and Inverness have already shown people from different walks (see what I did there?) of life, once their labels have been removed, are more than happy to share their experiences of what it’s like to be them. 

Take a look at some of the pictures and general social sharing here to get a flavour of it all. 

This isn’t rocket science. This is simply about getting folk, who don’t normally share a social space, to have a ramble and a blether. 

Remember to sign up here

Let’s keep the momentum going.

Walk a Mile


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

08/09/15 The tip of a rather lovely iceberg

On the 3rd of September 2015 hundreds of people took to the streets with the single aim to challenge mental health stigma one conversation at a time. 

There was no raging against the machine – just a bunch of folk walking and talking about mental health issues and what that meant from their perspective, in Edinburgh, Inverness, Glasgow, Inverkeithing and Daventry. 
This – we hoped – was going to be a distillation of what was…what is…fabulous about my walk and the people I’ve met so far around the UK.

 A simple message really, that people are interested and interesting, that folk, when put in the same social space, are very quick to rejoice in their similarities and put their perceived differences to one side. 

This isn’t rocket science. 

At the end of the day my face ached because I’d been smiling so much. 

My role for the day had been made so incredibly simple by the wonderful and hard working Eleanor from SeeMe and the rest of their dedicated team. 

My role? It was pretty much to ponce about, chatting, shaking hands and hugging folk. 

It’s a hard job but someone’s gotta…
People I’d never met before came up to me with smiles that suggested we were long lost friends. 

People who could have been any one of these – 
but whose only difference on the day was whether they had a green smiley face on their shirt, or a red one.

We started with a simple question, ‘What brings you here today?’ 
And it all just bowled along from there…

As well as the lovely buzz of the event evolving around me, some of my highlights were seeing the lovely Teen and Stewart who I’d stayed with on the Black Isle (neither black, nor an isle…the mystery continues) 
and Jan and Colin who’d effectively adopted this particular wandering loon  very early on in my ramble. 

All of whom continued to support me in a variety of ways as I trundled around Scotland. 

Yep, still smiling. 

…chatting to the woman who’d seen spending time in prison as a positive experience because that’s where she’d first received her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and, as a result, the start of therapy to help manage it. 

She’d brought her social worker along for the ride. The same social worker who spoke to me about her own struggle with depression – much to the surprise of the woman who’d invited her. 

Clearly we have more similarities than differences – you just have to scratch the surface. 

Earlier, I’d walked with Jamie Hepburn, the Scottish Minister for sport, health improvement and mental health. 

It was similar to those ‘what would you do with three wishes?’ kind of scenarios. The one where your third wish is invariably, ‘I’ll have three more wishes, please…’

We sorted that out very early on – Jamie agreed to meet with me at a later date to talk more about all things mental health. 

I liked his trusting disposition – right from the start he agreed for our conversation to be broadcast to the world using the periscope app on my phone. That, for me, was a pretty good place to start. 

I ended the day talking with a woman who wasn’t wearing one of our t-shirts. 

It turns out she’d just popped out to buy some hummus…she saw our merry band wandering down the Royal Mile, liked the cut of our collective jibs, and joined in. 

That’s the walkamile way. 

But this is just the tip of an increasingly growing iceberg. 
An iceberg that includes you lot. We’ve spread the word here on BBC Radio Scotland (about an hour and 35 minutes in)

Here  on Scottish television (about 15 minutes before the end) 
And here in the Edinburgh News
And, if you’ll indulge me further, here’s a beautifully written thing that describes the walkamile gig rather well.

The next event is in Strathclyde Park on the 23rd of September – you can sign up for that here

If that doesn’t suit you, why not run your own? You can download the supporters pack here

This is just the beginning…

Come on in, the water’s lovely

Walk a Mile


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment